The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story -

Yes, Sofia Cop­pola has heard the saying: “I want Sofia Cop­pola to di­rect my life.” She’s flat­tered by the line, which be­came some­thing of an in­ter­net meme in re­cent years — it even has shown up in pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als for her lat­est film — but she also finds it amus­ing. Re­ally amus­ing. Cop­pola may be an ac­claimed film­maker, an Os­car-win­ning screen­writer and a fash­ion fig­ure with a cer­tain el­e­gant, low-key per­sonal style — Cop­pola says chic in the easy, un­pre­ten­tious way you want to say it, whereas I say it like I’m drib­bling Froot Loops from my mouth — but she’s also a par­ent. And any par­ent knows you can di­rect a life only so much. I want Sofia Cop­pola to di­rect my life? “It’s so funny to hear that,” she says. “I’m liv­ing with a 10-year-old who thinks the op­po­site.”

Cop­pola smiles. It’s a mild spring af­ter­noon in Green­wich Vil­lage and we’ve met for lunch at Mar­gaux, a cosy restau­rant in­side the Marl­ton Ho­tel, a for­mer sin­gle-room-oc­cu­pancy build­ing ren­o­vated into a down­town es­cape. Wood­pan­elled and full of homey touches like a fire­place and over-size key rings, it looks like the kind of place where Wes An­der­son might leap up from be­hind the concierge desk. Cop­pola and her hus­band, Thomas Mars, lead singer of cel­e­brated French elec­tro-rock band Phoenix, live not far away in the West Vil­lage with their two daugh­ters, 10-year-old Romy and seven-year-old Cosima.

I’d been told Cop­pola can be shy in per­son, soft-spo­ken to the point of a whis­per, but she’s not at all to­day. She’s en­gag­ing and funny and ut­terly ab­sent of airs, whether she’s talk­ing about the best-pic­ture en­ve­lope fi­asco at the re­cent Os­cars (“It’s sort of fun that it’s live, that things can hap­pen”) or what it’s like to be the spouse of a rock star who has played Madi­son Square Gar­den (“I’m not, like, the to­tal rock wife on the side of the stage, but I like to see them play”).

Be­cause this is lunch with Cop­pola, I feel added pres­sure to ren­der very spe­cific, idio­syn­cratic de­tails about our meet­ing. So here goes: The restau­rant ban­quette where we’re sit­ting? It’s clas­si­cally up­hol­stered, an olive green. Sparkling wa­ter ar­rives in an emer­ald-coloured jug. There’s a trio at a ta­ble in the cor­ner hav­ing some kind of busi­ness meet­ing, speak­ing Ger­man. At least I think it’s Ger­man. I or­der the kale salad (yes: su­per bor­ing, sorry). Cop­pola gets the poached eggs and asks for hot wa­ter, as she has brought her own green tea. She’s wear­ing a pair of light-blue jeans, white ten­nis shoes and a vin­tage Yves Saint Lau­rent sa­fari jacket.

A pre­cise, al­most fetishis­tic eye for de­tail is among the sig­na­tures that make Cop­pola, now 46, one of the most dis­tinct film­mak­ers work­ing to­day. After six fea­tures — The Vir­gin Sui­cides, Lost in Trans­la­tion, Marie An­toinette, Some­where, The Bling Ring and the forth­com­ing south­ern gothic dark com­edy The Beguiled — even the ca­sual movie­goer can recog­nise her spe­cific style. Cop­pola’s films are rig­or­ously at­mo­spheric. Dreamy. Of­ten beau­ti­ful. Small, im­pec­ca­ble choices — a lo­ca­tion (the Park Hy­att Tokyo in Lost in Trans­la­tion), a piece of mu­sic (Heart’s Magic Man in The Vir­gin Sui­cides) or cos­tum­ing (a pair of Chuck Tay­lors that clev­erly shows up in the 18th-cen­tury wardrobe of Marie An­toinette) — of­ten reg­is­ter as much as the big, dra­matic mo­ments.

Cop­pola first came to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion as the daugh­ter of leg­endary film­maker Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola ( The God­fa­ther, Apoca­lypse Now). But in de­scrib­ing Sofia’s dis­cern­ing eye for de­tail, Ro­man Cop­pola, Sofia’s older brother and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor, sees the in­flu­ence of their mother, Eleanor, an artist and film­maker her­self who re­cently re­leased a new film of her own, Paris Can Wait, at age 81. “Sim­ple things, like a group­ing of wild­flow­ers — my mum al­ways no­ticed,” Ro­man says. “I think Sofia in­her­ited that.” He de­scribes a din­ner at Sofia’s home: “There are al­ways de­tails that make some­thing feel spe­cial: name cards, the way she writes things that has an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the way they look that’s not fussy but gen­uine.”

Cop­pola’s films are sim­i­larly per­sonal. They’re never about cine­matic shock and awe. In­stead they open slowly like a cher­ished jewel box. Her work isn’t to ev­ery­one’s taste — “Sofia Cop­pola: You Ei­ther Love Her or Hate Her” read a mildly bom­bas­tic head­line on a Slate es­say sev­eral years back — but mass ap­peal has never been her goal. Lost in Trans­la­tion is Cop- pola’s big­gest hit, and its $120 mil­lion world­wide gross is like a slow week­end for a Fast and the Fu­ri­ous in­stal­ment.

Still, Cop­pola re­mains a mean­ing­ful pres­ence in film­mak­ing not just be­cause she’s a work­ing fe­male di­rec­tor, a sta­tus that is de­press­ingly rare. Cop­pola’s one of a few Amer­i­can di­rec­tors who keep mak­ing small, orig­i­nal movies — she’s a throw­back to the in­dus­try’s long-gone au­teur era. “When you look at her boxed set of work, it’s such var­ied ma­te­rial,” says her pro­duc­ing part­ner Youree Hen­ley. And yet all of Cop­pola’s movies are un­de­ni­ably hers. Says Kirsten Dunst, who has been there for most of them, play­ing sis­ter Lux Lis­bon in The Vir­gin Sui­cides and the tit­u­lar queen in Marie An­toinette, mak­ing a cameo in The Bling Ring and now co-star­ring as school­teacher Ed­wina Danny in The Beguiled: “When you see a Sofia movie, you know it’s a Sofia movie.”

Early on, sto­ries about Cop­pola fol­lowed a rather pre­dictable arc. They de­scribed the daugh­ter of a moviemak­ing gi­ant thrown into the harsh pub­lic spot­light after her fa­ther cast her as a teenager in a key role in his con­tentious se­quel The God­fa­ther Part III, and then her re­birth as a di­rec­tor, and there was of­ten a slightly con­de­scend­ing/sex­ist ru­mi­na­tion about her fa­ther’s in­flu­ence (as well as her pre­vi­ous mar­riage to di­rec­tor Spike Jonze). Lis­ten: I adore Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s movies as much as I adore my own chil­dren — I might like The God­fa­ther even more — but at this point in her ca­reer, Sofia Cop­pola feels very much like her own di­rec­tor, and the fa­ther-daugh­ter thing is pretty played out. It’s much more in­ter­est­ing to talk about where Cop­pola is to­day, es­pe­cially

Film­maker Sofia Cop­pola

Sofia with her fa­ther, di­rec­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, in 1989

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